Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Night Sky: March 2009

In the spring of any year, not just the Year of Astronomy, there are lots of things to look for in the night sky. It’s a great time for the backyard astronomer in us all. Among the notable astronomy events are: Venus is leaving the evening sky; old constellations are at zenith; new constellations are visible; and the Vernal or Spring Equinox is about to occur. If you click on the pictures in this post, you will be able to see them in a larger size which will be easy to view and read.

Venus has been incredibly beautiful all winter, so please forgive me for not posting about a lovely event several days ago. On February 27th there was a close conjunction of Venus and the New Moon immediately after sunset. Unfortunately, we had cloud cover, and I forgot about it (What can I say, I was writing.). This picture, courtesy of Starry Night Astronomy Program, this is what it looked like right after full dark.

Keep Venus in your viewing schedule for the rest of the month. It’s leaving the evening sky on the March 27th when it has an inferior conjunction with the Sun. That’s fancy astronomer speak for crossing between the Earth and the Sun. DON’T TRY TO LOOK AT IT if you want to keep your eyes working properly. Venus will once more be visible as the Morning Star in April. (If you want to go out into a chilly morning to view it, more power to you. At that time of the morning, I’m usually writing for all that I’m worth, a mug of hot cocoa in one hand, a computer cuddled in my lap and the Supreme Pasha Zackery snuggled on my feet.) Your trivia for the day: Venus is moving toward the Earth when we see it in the evening. It is moving away from the Earth when we see it in the morning.

Taurus (Aldebaran), Orion (Betelgeuse), and Canis Major (Sirius) have been glorious in the winter sky. They are presently at their zenith in the evening and will soon be moving into the west. Before they leave us, there are several other constellations which I should like to bring to your attention. Directly to the north of Orion, and joined to the horn of Taurus is Auriga. It is shaped vaguely like a pentagon and has one bright star, Capella. This is another of the stars which Anne McCaffery uses as proper names for characters in her Science Fiction Romances (we writers steal wherever we can). Immediately to the east, almost the fourth corner of a diamond formed by Auriga, Taurus, and Orion is the constellation Gemini, the Twins. Their feet point toward Orion’s head. The two bright stars which form their heads are Castor and Pollux, the brothers of Helen of Troy and the navigators on Jason’s voyage to find the Golden Fleece.

There are two new constellations which are just coming into view in the east during the early evening. Cancer, the Crab, is just east of Gemini’s Castor and Pollux. You may not be able to view Cancer because it has no bright stars. I have a hard time with it. However, the next constellation, Leo, is just rising above the horizon at dusk. As the evening progresses, Leo is very easily recognized as the backwards “?” mark in the sky. Leo’s brightest star is Regulus, one of the ancient king stars and the heart of the lion. Look a little further down to the northeast, and you will see a small triangle of stars. Those stars are the haunches of the lion. The bright object immediately south of Leo’s haunches is Saturn. It’s not as bright as it sometimes is because its rings are not tilted far enough at this time for our viewing.

Last, but not least of the March astronomy events, is the Vernal or Spring Equinox on March 20th. This is the “moment” when Sun’s rays are directly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface at the equator, and when we count spring as beginning. It is also “commonly called” the moment when the Sun crosses the equator from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere; however, that is a fallacious statement because it is the tilt of the Earth, not any movement of the Sun, which causes the event. Language makes it impossible to escape the ideas of our ancient ancestors. In any case, equinox simply means equal hours of day and night. This only occurs two times a year, on the spring and fall equinoxes. Most ancient calendars were calculated as beginning on the Vernal Equinox, and astrology still works on this basis, even though the signs in modern astrology are now totally out of sync with the astronomical positions of the stars. If you would like to make an interesting observation, keep a log of sunset and sunrise times and the resulting increase/decrease in hours of daylight where you live. You will be surprised at how fast the change occurs.

Have fun, and happy viewing,


Writing Science Fiction Romance

Real Love in a Real Future

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